Conservation Groups Win Court Challenge to Massive Logging in Critical Habitat for Snake River Steelhead

Steelhead. Photo: USFWS.

We are happy to announce that we won our court challenge to halt yet another massive logging and road building project in federally-designated Critical Habitat for steelhead on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

It’s been 23 years since the Snake River Basin steelhead were listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. Yet their numbers have continued to decline due to hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers and widespread habitat degradation caused by clearcutting and bulldozing new logging roads throughout the Snake River Basin.

As recent fish surveys confirm, steelhead populations have declined significantly over the past few years as the Lolo Creek watershed experienced heavy logging.  Alarmingly, the decline of steelhead in this watershed appears to be even greater than elsewhere in the Snake River Basin.

Yet, while the Forest Service recognizes past road building and logging is responsible for the high level of sediment clogging the spawning streambeds, the agency proposed to continue more of the same, irrationally expecting logging to now be restorative.  Fortunately the Court recognized the need for the Forest Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to seriously analyze logging’s impacts on our dwindling Snake River steelhead.

The Lolo Insect logging project called for 3387 acres of logging, including 2444 acres or over 4 square miles of clearcuts and bull dozing 16.5 miles of new logging roads approximately 16 air miles northeast of Kamiah, Idaho in the Clearwater National Forest.  All four of the sub-watersheds affected by the project—Upper Lolo Creek, Mussellshell Creek, Eldorado Creek, and Middle Lolo Creek – are federally-designated “Critical Habitat” for Snake River Basin steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.

A primary basis for the lawsuit was the failure to properly take into account the precarious status of steelhead in the Lolo Creek drainage and for the Forest Service to reinitiate consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Even though there was more recent data on the decline of steelhead in Lolo Creek, that information was not used in the Biological Opinion prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service.  That led Federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill to conclude: “The Court finds Defendants’ decision to not reinitiate consultation to be arbitrary and capricious” in his Order halting the timber sale.

We would like to thank our attorneys Zak Griefen and Bryan Telegin of the Seattle law firm Bricklin & Newman, LLP for representing us in this case.

We’re happy to announce this huge logging project is now halted pending further order of the Court.  It’s tough to take the federal government to court, but federal agencies should follow the law and heed the Court’s orders, just like the rest of us.


Gary Macfarlane is the Ecosystem Defense Director of Friends of the Clearwater. Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.